Ex-Lake County coroner pleads guilty to disregarding election law
A controversial former Lake County coroner pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges he disregarded the law when filing to run for re-election in 2016.
Thomas Rudd, 71, pleaded guilty in front of Lake County Judge Victoria Rossetti to five misdemeanor counts of disregard of the election code. As part of the negotiated plea deal, he will serve 24 months on nonreporting probation, pay a $5,000 fine to Lake County and pay a $5,000 fine to the Paul Simon Public Policy Center in Carbondale.
Rudd also will be banned from public employment of any kind for five years after his two-year probation is completed, effectively ending his political career. He is allowed to remain on the ballot and run for precinct committeeman in the 2018 election.
Rudd said after court he was relieved to have the case behind him.
"But I'm saddened the state wasted money and time on this," he said.
Rudd, of Lake Forest, was facing five felony counts of perjury alleging he made false statements on nominating petitions filed before his unsuccessful 2016 re-election bid for coroner.
If convicted at trial, he could have been sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison. The charges were also probationable.
Authorities said Rudd falsely swore under oath he was present when voters signed nominating petitions he filed in November 2015.
Prosecutors allege 15 to 20 petition signatures were false, including one from a person who had been dead for more than a decade.
Rudd initially filed to run as a Democrat in the March 2016 primary. After those petitions were challenged, he dropped out of the race and withdrew his nominating documents. In June 2016, Rudd filed petitions to run as an independent in the November general election. Those petitions were also challenged because Rudd could not run as an independent in the same election cycle when he first filed to run as a Democrat.
Authorities filed the perjury charges against him in February 2017.
Defense attorney Jed Stone has called Rudd an American hero and repeatedly said the charges are "political payback" for controversial statements he made while in office.
"Justice prevailed today when perjury counts were dismissed," Stone said in a prepared statement after court. "But the public good has been injured by the prosecutors who deny the public the thoughtful and truthful services of this great and decent man."
In 2015, Rudd publicly questioned whether Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz was murdered in the line of duty. Authorities later said Gliniewicz had killed himself and made it appear as if he had been murdered.
Rudd went on television to cast doubt on a murder conviction of Melissa Calusinski, of Carpentersville, in the 2009 death of a 16-month-old boy at a Lincolnshire day care center. As coroner, Rudd changed the boy's official cause of death from homicide to undetermined, and he has been critical of autopsy results that linked Calusinski to the boy's death.
Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim turned over the perjury case against Rudd to the appellate court prosecutor's office to avoid possible conflict of interest, and they worked out the plea deal with Rudd on Wednesday.